The purpose of this unit of work is to introduce students to a fascinating area of physical geography: glacial environments
In addition to the wealth of unique landforms that can be explored, glacial studies are important in other ways. As climate change drives melting, a reduction in world-wide ice cover is set to severely impact on many places. Lives of people in non-glacial areas - including the UK - may be radically altered on account of vanishing ice. Glacial environments have become one of the most highly relevant physical domains for school pupils to learn about.
The unit commences by asking where in the world ice can be found. Different scales of ice cover exist, from the valley glaciers of Italy to the Antarctic ice sheet. Students will explore how ice grows and why the total amount of ice on planet earth has changed over time. The important link between ice cover and sea-levels should be highlighted early on, so that any initial misconception that ‘glaciers have nothing to do with me' is quickly dispelled! The mystery of why all of the world's glaciers are now retreating will be investigated and key links with global warming outlined.
The themes of interdependence and environmental interaction are then introduced as students examine positive ways in which glaciers impact on human lives - as well as hazardous ones. The vital role that melt-water plays in delivering fresh water in South America and Asia can be placed alongside the economic benefits that skiing, snow-boarding and other forms of ice tourism bring to countries at varying levels of economic development. The risk that avalanches bring to tourists is also highlighted. Remembering that glaciers are now starting to vanish, pupils should question whether human uses of glaciers are sustainable in the long term.
Plenty of opportunities exist for process and landform studies to be made in the second half of the unit. Non-specialist teachers can easily tackle delivery of the landforms that are referred to. However, teachers with a specialism in physical geography may wish to extend this part of the unit. Fieldwork opportunities do of course exist, and areas such as the Lake District or Isle of Arran could be visited in order to witness the landforms that a previous retreat of ice has revealed. In the final two lessons, the impact of sea-level rise on; local homes and the world's most vulnerable people will be examined.
By the end of this unit students will:
Be able to describe the global distribution of ice and identify the places where most glaciers are found
Have developed a spatial awareness that very different sizes and scales of glacier exist
recognise that the formation of ice depends on environmental (climatic) factors
understand that these environmental factors are not constant and have changed over time for complex reasons
Have developed an awareness that human-induced climate change now threatens the long-term survival of glaciers everywhere
Be able to offer some explanation of how glaciated environments can bring diverse opportunities and challenges for people
Understand why the loss of the opportunities brought by glaciers - due to climate change - is a cause for global concern
Recognise the main landforms that are found in glaciated environments and be able to offer a description of them
Understand how processes shape glacial landforms and appreciate the differences between weathering, erosion and deposition
Recognise that what happens to glaciers in the future could have an impact on their own homes as a consequence of sea-level rise
Be able to categorise the diverse ways in which melting ice and sea-level rise could impact on their own home environment
Have developed their own opinions about whether more should be done to try and prevent melting ice from harming the world's most vulnerable peoples
Have been exposed to a variety of enquiry approaches (and perhaps have undertaken fieldwork investigation)
Scenes from the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth are referenced throughout this Unit. A copy was sent to all UK schools by DfES in May 2007 and should therefore be available for use in either geography or science department libraries.
Your climate, your life
Several back issues of National Geographic contain useful articles:
July 2007 Iceman Murder Mystery
June 2007 The Big Thaw
September 2004 GeoSigns
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